Sitting in the basement of my house on this past Thanksgiving evening, I decided on a course of action that forever changed my life. Like other college students that have been struggling to stare at the computer screen for Zoom lectures, insecurity swept over me regarding my future. The COVID pandemic has surely changed how the world operates; job opportunities have changed, and not necessarily in a positive way. Some aspirations of my past may perhaps need to be put on hold. I often found myself thinking - why not try something new that could open another door for me?
It is important to know that I have a deep fascination with geography, language, and culture. As a boy, I wanted to travel around the world. I had spent the past few months reading about how wanderlust polyglots became English teachers abroad. I watched videos on YouTube and read both the positive and negative aspects of these English teachers abroad on Reddit. All of this led me to begin my unlikely TEFL journey, which runs in an independent contrast to writing my history thesis or my international politics comp exams to graduate in May 2022.
Teaching English as a foreign language itself has been around for centuries. Without teachers, how would students learn English? Understanding that there is always a need for teachers in the most popular professional language in the world, I began to conduct research in a new manner. How do I attain a TEFL certification and what exactly is it? I scrolled deeper through Reddit and saw a mention that the best TEFL classes are performed in person. Normally, there would be no possibility of me enrolling in a course outside of university due to the dilemma of commuting. I already had been over-electing and could not sufficiently make an in-person class. This is the silver lining in my pandemic experience. I quickly learned that earning a TEFL certification through International TEFL Academy is both prestigious within the TEFL community, and accessible for the pandemic learner. Of course, I knew that there would be classes present online, but from my academic perspective, I learn best in a face-to-face environment. Given that I could complete most of the classwork during the Christmas break in between my junior year semesters, I enrolled in the Level 5 program that began on December 14, 2020.
By no means did I consider this course to be an easy experience. As the semester revved up again in late January, I was over-electing again, meaning that I would be taking six classes worth nineteen credits, while swimming collegiately with Catholic University, all on top of the final third stretch of the TEFL course. The online experience, though unorthodox for most Americans teaching English abroad, is normal for my university student peers and me. I would log on to the academic portal and complete assignments after my lectures. There would be days where I would be too fatigued to stare at the computer and work for another few hours. Usually, I would struggle to find the motivation to complete the schoolwork for my classes with Catholic; the assignments seemed to drag on. However, with my ITA work, I always had a motivation to excel because I thought about the great future that I could have as a teacher overseas.
Something very special about my experience as a student with ITA is the immense flexibility given during the pandemic times. I thought that I would have to make a tough commute through traffic-rampant Washington to squeeze into a classroom for my practicum observations. In fact, I found it to be very difficult to find a place that would take me as a volunteer. I instead looked to ITA’s resources and found My Culture Connect, a private organization based in Changhua, Taiwan. I completed my practicum experience by observing classes of middle schoolers online and helping two students in the program with their schoolwork through tutoring sessions. This was a mere modicum of experience to other cultures as a teacher. It was surreal to be the one helping for the first time, instead of being helped. Though I could only virtually connect with these students, I felt a true bond with them. This positive experience hooked me onto the idea of teaching English as a career.
After earning my TEFL certification, I listed the certificate on my résumé immediately. It is fun to brag to my education major friends that my credentials made it to my résumé before they passed their final exams. Aside from poking fun, though, I have a new profound respect for teachers and those aspiring to become teachers. Many young people think that becoming a teacher is an easy job. The farthest could be true: I have learned that boundless patience, kindness, empathy, and a positive attitude are imperative for a teacher to be successful. Presently, I am unsure of my plans after graduation. I may try to earn my master's either in the United States, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. If not, or after that, it is very likely that you may find me in a humble classroom, possibly in South Korea or an Arabic or Spanish-speaking country, teaching my kids the wonders of languages. The possibilities are endless.